August 2007 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

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Reporting Bugs to Virgin Media (30th August 2007)

For some years I was an NTL digital TV customer. When that changed to Virgin Media, my service was changed automatically. In general the GUI has become much more responsive and has added some neat usability gains. But it has also lost some features and has a few interaction bugs.

I got their contact details from their Contact Us page. They have a FAQ about Virgin TV as part of an impressive Help section. But it seems any item of information is available in several places on their site, with each place stating something slightly different.

In the following message, I asked Virgin Media if they would accept bug reports and take them seriously. It was sent on 21st July 2007 using their general equiries form:

I was using ntl’s digital TV service, which has now become Virgin Media. If I report bugs and suggest feature enhancements to your digital TV service, will these be taken seriously and perhaps acted upon?

Ben Millard, website developer.

They replied on 31st July 2007. Their messages are confidential, so I cannot reproduce it. It basically said they welcome feedback and act on queries as quickly as they can.

So I just sent my first bug report to Virgin Media, using the same method:

This is a bug report for the digital TV service. I used to be an NTL Digital customer and am now a Virgin Media customer.

The 4 arrow buttons on the remote control do not display Mini Guide if the Mini Guide displays for setting is set to 0 seconds. These buttons successfully display the Mini Guide if the setting is any other value.

The same is true for the Select button on both the remote control and on the digital TV box.

The Services button on the digital TV box is not affected.

The TV button displays the Mini Guide for any value of Mini Guide displays for. I would like the arrow buttons and both Select buttons to work like this. The fact that they do not work the same when the setting as set to 0 seconds seems to be an error.

To find the Mini Guide displays for setting:

  1. Press the Guide button.
  2. Select the 8 Settings item.
  3. Select the 4 Change Display & Audio Settings item.
  4. The Mini Guide displays for setting is the 7th out of 9.

Please let me know the following:

I am maintaining a list of issues as I experience them. I would like to help improve your service by sending bug reports for them, free of charge.

In general, I am very satisfied with the Virgin Media service. Fixing these bugs would increase that even further.

Sending detailed feedback, reporting it in blog entry and following it up is inspired from Joe Clark’s blog. I reformatted the messages to use HTML instead of plain text simply because plain text sucks.

I am keeping a list of bugs to send to them after this if they respond. I will blog their response, summarising what they say if they decide their actual message is still confidential. Fingers crossed, this will be time well spent.

Blog Sidebar (28th August 2007)

All the Blog Archive links are now listed in a sidebar when browsing the /blog/ area of Project Cerbera. It reuses the link list code used by the main menu and footer links by sending a different array of URIs and link text.

I think the Blog index page is better without the sidebar so it stays nice and compact. The archive page doesn’t get a sidebar because it would duplicate the links already on it.

Performant Protest (28th August 2007)

Back in July 2006 I protested against Internet censorship by putting censored material on my web pages. This is material censored for political reasons which seeks to silence people who review governments around the world. Even when it’s their own citizens.

The project is called Irrepressible and the website is pretty good in terms of standards. You can sign the pledge for Internet freedom using a <form> whose controls are explicitly associated with their labels. I already have, along with 72,126 others.

However, the material which you can add to your pages is not so hot:

Here’s an example of the main content, as modelled by Eat Your Greens:

<iframe marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" style="border: 0pt none ; overflow: hidden; width: 468px; height: 60px;" src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
<div id="fragment">
	<a title="go to and learn more about this excerpt" id="link_back" target="_top" href=";lang=en&amp;">
	<script type="text/javascript">
	document.write('<' + 'img src="/images/'+lang+'/468.gif" width="147" height="58" alt="irrepressible" />');
	</script><img src="/images/en/468.gif" alt="irrepressible" height="58" width="147">
	<span>You can challenge governments and those who hold power</span></a>

I can appreciate the “paste and forget” nature of this is a big win for busy people.

For a while I was processing Irrepressible’s XML API to wrap richer markup around their data. But I found all those little scripts and framed blobs of HTML which are mostly embedded CSS added too long to page loads.

Oh, and their server quite often stalled for 30 seconds before returning an Error 500 response. During which nothing else would happen.


So now I have taken a snapshot of their catalogue to create a PHP array with 71 entries. I host it on Project Cerbera for processing locally. An example of the markup I generate:

<div id='irrepressible' class='irrepressible'>
 <a href='' title='About this Irrepressible excerpt.'>
  <img src='/180a-1.gif' width='180' height='45' alt=' Someone doesn&#8217;t want people to read this.' title='About this Irrepressible excerpt.'>
  <a href='' title='Visit &#8216;Hossein Derakhshan&#8217;'>
   Let&#8217;s wish all people, especially in the middle-east, a more democratic, yet peaceful year.
   <cite>Hossein Derakhshan</cite>
<p class='bottom'>
 <a href='' title='An initiative of Amnesty International'>
  <img src='/180b.gif' width='158' height='18' alt='Amnesty International.' title='An initiative of Amnesty International'>

Much nicer, imho. The 897 bytes of CSS I use for it is in my style.css file, so that gets cached. All the problems with the old system are solved.

Whitespace is excessive as I might seek peer review and release it. Contact me.

Imageless Rebuild (4th May 2012)

Overnight I rewrote the HTML and CSS from scratch, updating the PHP to suit.

All the text is now real text with hover effects on the linked parts. The description is now visible below the fragment, rather than hidden away in a tooltip.

Completed GT4 (27th August 2007)

Circuit de la Sarthe 24h was the final event I tackled. It’s the pinnacle of motor racing.

The Bentley Speed 8 LMP900 was the machine I used. After extensive racing in the other events and winning the Grand Valley 300km event with it, I had a good affinity for the way it drives. My idea was to relive Bentley’s historic return to le Mans when they won their class and finished 3rd overall. Except I’d win outright, naturally.

My final stint had to be one lap longer than my other stints. I had anticipated this and added an extra lap of fuel at my final pit stop. However, the rear tyres degraded more than I expected and I span out through the Dunlop Curves, going deep into the gravel! The car barely crawled as I fought to get out of the gravel traps. By the time I got back onto the track, I was running on fumes. It ran out before entering the final sequence of chicanes and the persuing Mazda 787B was gaining fast!

Luckily I managed to cross the line just 3 seconds ahead. Whew! What a nailbiting way to reach 100%!

GT4 has lived up to every expectation I had and more. If GT5 cultivates a modding community, I would be seriously tempted to participate in it.

Zoe Moves House (25th August 2007)

Zoe and Sarah have moved from a shared house to their own flat next to Basingstoke Canal. I helped and they got me some fish and chips for lunch.

Most of today was spent hauling their stuff down the house stairs into a van, then out of the van up two flights of stairs into their flat, some of it going up another flight of stairs once there.

Graham drove the van and used to do programming. He’s the first person I’ve met outside of the accessibility field who was immediately interested in accessibility. Warren from Calthorpe Park School only became enthusiastic about it after mentioning it a few times and that was a refreshing amount of interest, too.

The sun was blazing. All electricals have really sharp bases...the part you have to carry them by. But it was a lot more fun than sitting around the house by myself.

Homesitting (24th August 2007)

Home alone this weekend as my parents have gone on holiday.

Commenting on “Dear WHAT WG and HTML 5 WG” (16th August 2007)

(My reply to Dear WHAT WG and HTML 5 WG on Molly Holzschlag’s blog wasn’t getting through. I e-mailed her and she looked into it but it still wouldn’t go through, so I’m writing it here.)

I appreciate both “sides” of the accessibility in HTML5 debate. My reply to John Foliot's Formal Recorded Complaint last month:

When I first found that some accessibility-specific attributes were absent, sure I was upset. But then I took the time to interact with WHATWG to understand where they were coming from. Although they have some ideas about it, turns out they consider accessibility stuff an open issue. So I wasn't upset any more. :-)

But if I hadn't made the effort to see things from their perspective I would have gotten the wrong idea. I would be making exactly the complaints saturating public-html from the other accessibility folks. These complaints are certainly well intentioned. But they are the result of misunderstanding the [very early] stage HTML5 is at and the process it will go through, imho.

I have a particular interest in retaining and improving table accessibility. So I'm gathering examples of real data tables to help inform the discussion on public-html and elsewhere.

If you’re worried about something, research it and contribute productively! Accessibility folks are already doing this. Some of it has been summarised on the Wiki:

So yeah, why moan on our blogs and forums when we can contribute research and facts to the Group? The invitation to participate means the door is open for us to make accessibility, interoperability, interactivity and everything else better than it has ever been before. :)

Tidied up Site Surgeon (15th August 2007)

When I started out as a professional website bloke I created Site Surgeon. This was and still is the public face of my Sole Trader company of the same name. But it very rarely gets updated.

Nowadays I more or less work for sdesign1. There’s even less chance of Site Surgeon being kept up to date since Phil does a stellar job with sdesign1’s website. So now Site Surgeon is just a homepage, a contact page and a small collection of articles.

I’ve toyed with the idea of moving the articles here for quite some time. I’m not sure how best to organise. But since they all use semantically rich HTML, repurposing their content for this will be easy. Don’t need XHTML for that.

Tweaking the Tutorials Index (12th August 2007)

Decided to change the index of GTA tutorials so it lists the handling tutorials separately from the others. It now lists them in these sections:

To make the links more scannable I removed the game edition from the link text in the two popular sections. The edition is now the first item. I made some slight tweaks to some tutorial titles and removed some rambling.

Happily, it all fits snugly into the viewport for a typical browser sized at 1024x768.

Mouth Fixed (11th August 2007)

Slightly more than three weeks since having my lower left wisdom tooth removed, my mouth is now working normally again.

New Cycling Routes (11th August 2007)

Decided to explore the nearby woods some more. Found a varied and demanding route which takes about 3 minutes to cycle at a medium pace. Pushing hard I managed it in about 2 minutes 45 seconds. It features:

The start/finish area is where 4 paths meet at a triangle. The tarmac route with, dirt shortcut and another path can be combined with this triangle, creating very technical short routes. It’s like Tsukuba for mountain bikes!

Short Cycle Ride (10th August 2007)

A quick half-hour ride in the nearby woods. Went along the narrow root-covered path beside the drainage ditch. Weaved around the trees to practise my balance and tight turning.

Was glad to be under the shade of trees. It was really hot on the road between here and the woods!

Decided to stop counting the number of cycle rides in blog entry titles.

Parents on Holiday (9th August 2007)

They have gone to the Isle of Man for a week. So I’m looking after the house and guinea pigs.

A Year of PHP (7th August 2007)

It was in August 2006 that Calthorpe Park School moved to PHP and went live around that time.

By January 2007 I was moving Project Cerbera to PHP and it all went live on March 7th.

Just now, I fixed two subtle bugs in the breadcrumbs introduced back when I moved to technology neutral URIs. Also changed so the “More Blog Entries” from the blog index page is now present on all blog pages, which took just a couple of minutes.

PHP is really cool!

TextStudio isn’t at Version 0.1 (7th August 2007)

Decided today’s TextStudio update isn’t ready for a 0.1 version number. The Find/Replace panel’s vertical size should be saved in textstudio.ini before that. Ideally, the buttons should reflow for 0.1 as well.

Mouth Nearly Fixed (6th August 2007)

Eating in left side of my mouth is now possible, if done carefully. The swelling is completely gone, it’s just a bit tender still.

Table Collections Introduced to W3C (6th August 2007)

Plucked up the courage to create a public-html thread about my Collections of Interesting Data Tables research.

Moved the collection from!dev/tables/ to /web/study/2007/tables/. The URIs should fit better in e-mail messages to the group now, as well as looking tidier.

Are Glossaries Evil? (4th August 2007)

(Commenting on Too much accessibility - double expanded acronyms from RNIB’s Web Access Centre Blog. My comment was causing a Connection was reset error.)

It’s a perennial issue with many aspects to it. I'm fully agreed about the avoidance of duplicated expansion, though.

In response to Bim’s comment:

    1. Finding links in web pages is normal web use.
    2. HTML 4 defines a glossary value for the rel attribute which can be exposed by browsers and ATs.
    3. “Glossary” is a well established and widely used name for providing descriptions of terms.
    4. BSL has ‘finger spelling’ for words which are not native to it.
  1. This is normal when foraging for further information about anything.
  2. Browsers usually have Find in page to make this easy.
  3. This is normal after finding the further information being saught. The Back button makes this easy.
  4. Both cursor and scroll position are retained when going Back. A device which does not do this is lacking a useful feature.

From what I can tell, the user experience for a Glossary is like the normal experience of finding further information about something?

Some comparisons I’d make between the available solutions:

  1. Tooltips in web browsers are usually not displayed onFocus. This makes <abbr title> and <acronym title> inaccessible to sighted users without a pointing device. title values are usually unavailable in small screen devices, too. In contrast, a glossary can be used in any web device.
  2. <abbr title> and <acronym title> are rarely used on the web, so users are likely to be unfamiliar with how they work. I’ve seen them cause confusion and annoyance for sighted mouse users, for example. In contrast, clicking a link to get more information about something is common and familiar.
  3. Expanding the title for every instance of every shortened term considered uncommon by the author everywhere on the web would surely bog users down? In contrast, a glossary is on-demand: users only get expansions when they need them.
  4. Once a user has looked up the expansion to a term, they will probably remember it for next time.
  5. Judgements about the commonality of shortened terms are very subjective. The presence or absence of <abbr title> and <acronym title> may not match a user’s need, so they’ll need to go elsewhere to look up the term. A glossary can be more thorough.
  6. Marking up many or all shortened terms will tend to:
    1. increase the costs of production and maintainance;
    2. make the website slower to build;
    3. make pages slower to add;
    4. and increase the download of every page to some extent.
    In contrast, a glossary only requires adding and maintaining one page, where each term is added just once.
  7. Online abbreviation databases are fairly exhaustive and readily available from web searches. Search engines are probably a more familiar way to find information than hovering the mouse over text styled with a dotted bottom border.
  8. In the current WCAG 2.0 documents, using the link element to link to a glossary or providing a glossary pass the unusual words and abbreviations guidelines. This is to better accomodate the different experiences users have, from what I can tell.
  9. Operating systems could let users query the nearest word for its definition. For example, Dictionary in Mac OS X.

I currently mark up nearly all shortened terms. The labour of doing this does not seem well balanced with its effectiveness. Glossaries are a solution which seem much better to me. But Bim’s comments at the bottom of that article are making me think twice, which is always helpful. c{:¬)

Absent lang on Root Element (4th August 2007)

(Commenting on Hidden barriers - bad language from RNIB’s Web Access Centre Blog. My comment was causing a Connection was reset error.)

But where no natural language is defined, when the content on the page goes back to the natural language, the screen reader has no natural language to revert to, and so it may carry on using the current rules for pronunciation.

That’s a bug in the device. The device is supposed to change back to the lang it used for the parent element after the element with a different lang has ended. Even if it guessed what the value should be.

Supplying a lang on the root element of the page is a good idea, though. It makes the initial language selection easier for devices accessing the page.

Jack, in that particular example “vista” will only be pronounced correctly if you set lang and the UA understands it. It will sound like a recently released operating system unless both those things happen! Also, the “h” in “hasta” is somewhat silent in the correct pronunciation but would probably be spoken in English.

Correct pronunciation is reason enough to mark up such changes, imho.

I think <i lang> is sane for words in foreign languages and HTML5 might make this official. But <span lang> does the job, too.